Fire – literally and figuratively – at 1835 Madison

Merriam-Webster defines the word, “fire” as, “the phenomenon of combustion manifested in light, flame, and heat.”

That’s certainly what’s taken place at the corner of Madison Avenue and South McLean Street over the past 30 years or so. Light from its glory days, flame from two fires – decades a part – and heat felt from the aftermath.

The property on which Neil’s Bar stood for nearly 20 years at 1835 Madison Ave. is owned by Don McCormack and Ceylon Blackwell. A fire destroyed Neil’s in August, leaving only the foundation.

Blackwell said the “most successful renter” of the former 7,373-square-foot space was Bill and Jim’s Restaurant, which was housed there until the late 1980s. That venture too ended as a result of a fire before Neil’s took over in the early 1990s.

A restaurant is not the highest and best use for that property, Blackwell said. But the economics weren’t even an issue until post-fire discussions.

Here’s an excerpt from my Blackwell interview that didn’t make it into Thursday’s story. More or less – it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

“The fire obviously got the thing started, I wasn’t planning on doing anything else with the building,” Blackwell said. “When the fire happened, it made us look at what we wanted to do. The insurance company would either pay us a sum, and it was not the full insurance sum, they depreciated it somewhat. But they would pay us an amount of money – a lesser amount if we’re going to demolish it, a great amount if we’re going to rebuild it. But rebuilding it was not very smart because you’re not going to increase the value of the building. So, we just decided to take the insurance money and sit on it for a couple of years maybe and put it on the market and sell it. Neil’s was a good tenant. Neil is a good guy and I hate that I couldn’t rebuilt it, but it just didn’t make sense.”

As far as marketing, Blackwell will cross that bridge when he comes to it.

“I really haven’t thought about it,” he said. “Right now, it’s down the road. Gee, I don’t start worrying about things until it gets a little closer to what I’m going to do.”

Whatever the outcome, I sure hope the new user has firewalls.